The Young Man and His Work
This instructive article is the third in a series on “The Young Man” by Mr. Donald K. Steele of Peterborough, Ontario.
While it may seem odd to deal with such a mundane topic as work in a series of this nature, it can be most profitable to consider together a few ideas relating to our occupation or vocation in life. We cannot by any means exhaust such a topic in a page or two, but we can raise some important issues.
The young man must first prepare for a lifetime of work. Few are so placed as to inherit a lifetime income, so most of us must work. Our preparation for work will determine where we fit into things, since our society is basically organized around occupations. Have you ever noted that the second thing that is usually asked of a stranger, after his name, is what work he does? This shows the great emphasis placed on our life’s work. Of course, if God calls one to His service, as He did with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others since, then the choice of an occupation is His, not ours, and we have simply to follow His leading. Even in the realm of secular occupations, our preparation for a career should be taken seriously and with a definite view to seeking God’s will for our lives in this vital area.
Preparation inevitably involves education or training. University, college, apprenticeships, and various other types of preparation can all be a part of our getting ourselves equipped to enter a career. Generally speaking, the less preparation, the lower the income and the lower the expectations of the particular career.
In deciding on a career, one’s aptitudes must be taken into consideration. What are your interests, hobbies, and preferences? What do you like to do? Do you have any special talents or aptitudes which would steer you in a particular direction? Do you have any handicaps which would put some jobs out of reach? I am not speaking of physical handicaps, for the physically handicapped have proven that they can do almost anything, but if you weigh 300 pounds, you would not make a good jockey, nor would a person four-foot eight in height likely become a basketball star. These are rather facetious illustrations, but you can see what I mean.
Once you are at work, it is essential that you show all possible diligence in the performance of your duties. Paul tells us in Romans 12:11 that we must not be slothful in business. The writer of the Proverbs reminds us in 26:13-16 that a slothful or lazy man is useless as an employee, and wiser is his conceit than seven men can give a reason. How can any man or woman claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ; yet be a shirker and a lazy loafer at work? Unfortunately, there may be such, but they are such a poor testimony and such a disgrace to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the word of God condemns their conduct in strong terms. The way of a slothful man is a hedge of thorns — difficult and very trying, according to Proverbs 15:19. So the Christian young man, whether he be a shelf stocker in a supermarket, or a medical intern in a hospital, must show diligence in his work, whatever that work might be.
The young man must also be honest. Honesty is not only the best policy, as the old aphorism puts it, but honesty is an essential part of the ethical make-up of a Christian. A dishonest Christian is an absolute contradiction in terms. In a day when theft from the workplace has reached epic proportions, such conduct must be beyond consideration for the one who seeks to please the Lord in all things. Recently a man in his sixties with whom I had worked for ten years was arrested and convicted because he had allowed stolen goods from a factory to be stored in his garage, and evidently his sons were involved. What a disgrace for a father to have to suffer such treatment at the hands of ungodly sons! Paul tells us in Romans 12:17 to provide things honest in the sight of all men, and this the minimum requirement for the Christian.
Since the young man is serving the Lord through his work, as well as serving man, he will recognize the necessity of pleasing the Lord in all things. This will mean that he is not afraid to do a little extra, to go the extra mile, to give good value, pressed down and running over, insofar as his employer is concerned. There are plenty of others to be clockwatchers, idlers and wastrels; let us never as Christians be found among their company. If fellow workers jeer and jibe at you for being diligent and keeping busy, do your best to ignore them, and remember that Christians are not promised that the world will appreciate us or commend us when we do well. At the same time, we must not antagonize those with whom we work by assuming an air of superiority or a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, which will not win them to our Saviour, but will turn them against the Lord who died for them too. Our attitudes toward our fellow workers are as important as those toward our employer. Both must be accorded their due respect.
What we must work for, as Christians, is the respect of those who know us well. Our fellow workers see a great deal of us, and if they can respect us as workers, then they will be well disposed to listen to us as Christians. At the same time, we must beware the trap of using our employer’s time to witness to unsaved workmates, for the theft of time is as insidious and as reprehensible as is the theft of money or goods. The wise employee will use the coffee break, or lunch hour, or after hours time to witness, and will refrain from doing so during regular working hours. While there may be some exceptions, such as perhaps a salesman dealing with a client, I believe that the above rule should be generally followed.
The Problem Of Promotion
What is the Christian’s attitude toward promotion? It would seem that an ambitious young man, who enjoys his work, should seek promotion within the organization for which he works. There is one danger here. Anyone who is too ambitious, too strongly motivated to advance up the ladder, can be guilty of using others for his own end, and even climbing up the ladder of ‘success’ over the backs of other workers. Such conduct should be unthinkable for the Christian. We can expect that promotion will come, in due course, to any diligent, conscientious and faithful worker who has the respect of others. On this basis, we can accept it when it does come, and if it does not, we can seek the Lord’s will in that too. Since it is clear today that some men are promoted beyond their abilities, one should never be too proud to acknowledge this fact, if it should happen, and to request a return to the former position where you enjoyed success. Promotion is not automatically a good thing, and one modern writer has built a whole book around the concept that almost everyone is eventually promoted to a level at which he is incompetent. If this theory is true, and it cannot be in every case, surely the wise Christian would not let such a thing happen to him, but would seek to serve where he could make a real contribution.
What should one’s attitude be toward salary or wages? In a period of high inflation, such as we are now experiencing, increases in pay are always welcome. If the employer is dealing fairly with his staff, then we can expect the Christian to receive and accept what others are receiving. If there is any complaint in this area, we should not fear to discuss it with our employer. If he chooses to continue to deal unfairly, pray about the matter, and console yourself with Job 31:13-14. God sees all and deals justly. Our responsibility is to avoid being a complainer about such matters.
Finally, the matter of status in the workplace concerns us greatly. There is an enormous amount of nonsense today concerning the status level of different occupations. A lady wrote to an advance columnist to complain about a friend who was telling everyone that her daughter was engaged to marry a doctor, when in fact the prospective groom was only a lowly dentist! The Christian young man should avoid such foolish and ridiculous attitudes when choosing his life’s work. Old attitudes and ideas die hard, but in an age when a plumber may earn more than a doctor, we need to reexamine our materialistic and false assumptions about the value and status of different occupations and choose what the Lord has fitted us to do much more for our own satisfaction and joy in working than for any other reason. We can assume that the Lord Jesus worked as a carpenter for much of his life, between the ages of twelve and thirty, and if He could cheerfully work with his hands, have we any right to despise any occupation, or to look down on the workers who labour in any necessary work? I think not.